Photos: Jim Clark, Hot Rod M.D.
The ability to join two pieces of metal together is a basic requirement for many hot rodding and automotive projects. We’ve all seen the “mud-dauber” variety of welds produced by inexperience and shoddy welding technique. Not only do they look bad, the strength and penetration needed for structural integrity, is just not there. Don’t be one of those amateurs; learn the basics of welding and take pride in your work.
The only way to get good at welding is through practice.
Get Efficient With Learning
Without question, the most efficient way to get steady, regular practice when just starting out is through a vocational school course. Look around your local area to find a vo-tech school that offers arc welding. Then, commit to taking the class. Basic classes range from 125 to 250 hours in length. At the beginning of the course, you’ll spend a lot of time going over theory. A large portion of the course will be in the shop, actually welding. You can expect to become proficient in most horizontal position welds, get an introduction to vertical up, and maybe even do some overhead work, if you really get into it with the basic classes.
Look for a school with a decent sized shop of at least a dozen booths, with heavy-duty machines.
What You’ll Need For The Course
There is a range of equipment you’ll need to take a welding course. Naturally, you should listen to your instructor’s recommendations, before purchase. Here are highlights to give you an idea of what you’re getting into. In my opinion, welding stores are the best place to get equipment and supplies.
A good welding helmet is essential for producing quality welds. I like the traditional style that you flip up each time you stop welding. The auto-darken style is OK, although it does add cost and something else to break down, when you are out in the shop trying to get a project completed. There are also several shades of darkness for the lenses. I always like a slightly lighter tint, so I could very clearly see the welding puddle. Start out with the standard arc lens and see how that works for you, then adjust if needed.
Long, heavy, new leather welding gloves are the way to go. They are soft and supple when new, making it easy to grab the electrode holder and control the weld puddle. Occasional welders, like home hot rodders, can expect years of service from their gloves.
If you’re serious about getting good at arc welding, in investment in a set of leathers, is essential. It’s amazing how keeping hot sparks from burning your forearm, can aid in your concentration on the weld puddle. Like gloves, leathers will last for years, with reasonable care.
You’ll also need a good pair of glass, safety glasses, with side shields. Don’t forget to wear smooth-toed leather boots and a T-shirt, under your leathers. You don’t want sparks collecting in the seams of normal boots, or cuffed work pants, for that matter. Blue jeans, not rolled up and without holes, are strongly recommended. A T-shirt will keep you cool and not burst into flames on your back, when the sparks fly around your welding booth.
An Unopened Box Of Welding Rods
Your instructor will undoubtedly recommend a new, unopened box of welding rods. You’ll probably use standard 6011s. They are a good penetrating, mild steel rod used for general purpose work. New rods haven’t picked up any moisture and will give the stable, predictable arc you need in order to learn the proper welding techniques.
Making good welds requires practice. Sign up for a welding course, get your equipment together, then spend the time needed to learn to do it properly. You know a good weld when you see it and most welders take pride in their work. The payoff will be a strong weld, minimal cleanup, and a strong sense of accomplishment.